Posts made in October, 2011

Sometimes You Need a Pro

Posted by on Oct 27, 2011 | 0 comments

When I was a young girl, our family would visit Big Bear Lake in the summer. Our neighbors had a cabin and we would fish, hike, play and eat great food for a weekend.

Finding the cabin wasn’t easy, it was built at the far end of the Lake in an up and down maze of mountain roads. At one point, we would have to stop our car and honk, then listen to see if anyone was headed down the very steep, one-lane road in front of us, before heading up that same hill. If no return honk was heard, you were good to go. Every now and then we would honk, hear nothing in response and head up the hill only to find ourselves hood-to-hood with a car coming down the hill. This was not a task for amateur drivers!

Sometimes you need a pro.

In spite of the hidden author in all of us, there may come a time when you should give up writing and hire someone to do it for you. Fundraising is all about communication and the quality of writing can make or break your efforts to share successes, needs and information with your donors. Lack of creativity, energy, time, and yes, ability, are all justifiable reasons to leave the wordsmithing to the pros.

And so I am signing off as today’s blogger and sharing the words of Kimberly Roth in her blog entry 5 Signs You Should Hire a Professional Writer as posted on the website.

If you’re struggling with your communications efforts, consider this a honk. Head’s up!

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In Today’s Market…

Posted by on Oct 19, 2011 | 0 comments

….we can’t act like we did in the past.

Jobs are scarce, money is tight, and emotions are on edge.

Details matter, even the little things. It’s up to you – the applicant, the fundraiser, the consultant – to deliver an easy-to understand and seemingly easy-to-implement message. If there’s a special request, difficult timeline, or detailed online form that complicates what should be a fairly easy process, you may (will) lose the attention and interest of your audience.

Whether fundraising, applying for a job, or talking to potential clients, your message – what you have to offer, what you are selling – needs to be clear, focused and doable.

  • A donor wants the donation process to be safe, secure and simple.
  • An employer wants the hiring process to be thorough, effective and simple.
  • A client wants your presentation to be tailored, understandable, and simple.

Details matter, but keep them simple and on topic. Negotiations are important, but remember to make it easy for someone to hire you, or to make a donation. In today’s market it’s not smart to create barriers or obstacles between you and your target audience.

Simplicity doesn’t mean half-arsed;  it means to not create an information overload that may stall any forward motion.

Yes, in today’s market everything is different, so take a minute to put yourself in “their” shoes before delivering your message, then take a second minute to edit out the unnecessary, simplify the details, and clarify your focus based on your audience and your goal.

It’s a little more work, but it’s worth the extra effort. Good luck!

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Life Happens: When Personal Encroaches on Professional

Posted by on Oct 14, 2011 | 0 comments

We’ve all had a bad hair day, but how many of us have also experienced a bad day at work simply because personal issues were crowding into our professional thoughts? (No need for a show of hands).

Life happens, no matter what deadline is looming or which task is causing us to freak out. Life doesn’t go away because of stress at work, it just continues to happen. Good and bad.

When personal and professional overlap, or collide, or simply fight each other for attention, it can be difficult to maintain focus. Sometimes it’s even difficult to maintain our professional, non-emotional demeanor. When these moments occur, and we find it impossible to work through them, it’s time to take a breath (and maybe a walk), clear our heads (and our desk), and refocus.

True professionals often appear to never allow personal issues to cloud their business persona, but rarely is that reality. They are better at pushing through the personal to focus on the business-at-hand, but to those who know them best it’s obvious when something’s wrong.

And maybe that’s the key. It’s OK for those who know you best to discern your angst, but it’s not OK for others in the office, or clients, to sense that something is wrong. If you are really that far gone, you shouldn’t be at work. Take a personal day. Take a sick day. Take a vacation day. But best practice would be to not bring personal issues to the office unless you can compartmentalize them during your work day.

Yes, many of us have close friends at work whom we confide in, but it’s best to save those quiet (hopefully) conversations for lunch – out of the office – or a phone call after work. Don’t add the burden of your personal issues on a well-meaning colleague, they have deadlines and tasks too.

We all have bad days, but if we can leave our most difficult personal issues at home, our professional life will be much more, well, professional. And focused.

Here are a few tips to get you back on track at work (when personal thoughts keep taking over):

  1. Fill a water bottle. (Stay hydrated, it helps!)
  2. Straighten your desk. (I wasn’t kidding above)
  3. Create a list of must-do’s for the remainder of the day.
  4. Close all unnecessary windows on your computer.
  5. Keep your business email open, but close your personal mail.
  6. Set your IM status appropriately (a sad face with a cryptic note, such as “Misery loves company” isn’t helpful).
  7. Stay away from Social Media where you might also be tempted to post a sad face (along with the words “Misery loves company”).
  8. Put on some happy music, or use headphones without music to give yourself some self-enforced privacy – whichever works best.
  9. Refrain from making or taking personal calls.
  10. Go to lunch with a group of happy folks or eat in your office (if you don’t want to talk one-on-one).
  11. Change your mindset. It takes effort but you can do it! After all, you’re a professional!

Do you remember the movie Over the Top? If you do, you will remember how Sylvester Stallone switches his baseball cap around when he enters the arm wrestling ring. It’s as if a change in his personality takes place as he turns the hat. This is what we need to do when we enter our work environment – we all need to “turn our hats” when we walk through the office door.

Bottom line: Set aside unique time for your personal and professional lives. And get a good hat. Good luck!

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Nothing to Say

Posted by on Oct 13, 2011 | 0 comments

Today I have struggled with this blog, finally reaching the understanding that I have nothing to say. Rather than let a good blog opportunity go by, I thought maybe I would expound on my nothing-to-sayness.

Because the reality is – I always have something to say. It’s more that sometimes it’s not necessary, or not the right time, or not that important.

With today’s overload of information via social networking, email, voice recognition technology, blogs, RSS feeds, smart phones, iPads, and more, there’s something to be said for saying nothing.

As a three-decade nonprofit professional, I’ve learned to be selective in my communication. The old adage children should be seen not heard might occasionally apply to an organization as well.

Too many emails, newsletters, reminders, and even events can become too much for a supporter to handle – after all, they have lives too, and theirs, unlike ours, isn’t typically focused on the nonprofit organization they have chosen to support.

Give ’em a break.  If you really don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything at all.  If it’s a blog, skip a day – not four days. If it’s a regular newsletter, keep it simple this time.

Donors can sense a lack of sincerity, so it’s important that we don’t pretend with them. And after an abbreviated shout out, you can pick up next time from right where you left off in an earlier pre-nothing-to-say communication.

Don’t misunderstand. Regular, consistent communication is important, but only if it’s honest, relevant communication.

And with that, I’m shutting up.

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Silence is Golden

Posted by on Oct 11, 2011 | 0 comments

Fundraisers are typically warm outgoing people, and they are trained to be social, to converse, to network, to engage…but there is a moment (or more) when silence is not only appropriate for a fundraiser, but literally “golden”.

Think back to your last personal ask. Right after your polished presentation, made while sitting across a table or desk from your potential donor, or in a phone conversation, did you take a moment to be still and SILENT? Chances are you didn’t.

All too often we ramble on with unnecessary information, additional data, even quasi-apologies,  as if chatter will dull or ease the reality of what we just did – which was ask for support. But isn’t that our job? And doesn’t the person you’re meeting with know that? Yes, and yes.

Silence after a personal in-person request for support is critical. It allows the donor to think. This is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. After all, you’re sitting there because you have a relationship with the person sitting across from you, and he or she has an interest (maybe a passion, maybe even an investment) in your organization’s work. It’s important to respect their right to ponder what you’ve just asked for.

I’ve had donors look up after a minute and restate my original idea (ask) in a way that more greatly benefits the organization I’m representing than I had hoped for. Or they restructure it to meet their financial and philosophical position. Donors may have additional questions, or an alternate method of offering their support – today matching grants are a popular suggestion with philanthropists. Give your donors a chance to think through what you’ve just asked them to do before moving the conversation past your greatest opportunity to gain their support, or worse yet, before closing your portfolio, shaking hands and leaving with a “I’ll give you call about what we talked about.”

Stop. Take a breath. Give them time to think. Take time to listen.

Today’s post from Katya shares great information on this topic from Andy Robinson’s new book, How to Raise $500 to $5000 From Almost Anyone, and then offers her own commentary.

“Novice solicitors tend to stammer out of the number and then immediately backpedal before the prospect has a chance to consider the request.  If you’re not careful, your mouth will open against your will, and all sorts of inappropriate comments will come out, like ‘I know that’s a lot, you really don’t have to give that much.’  Or ‘You don’t have to decide right now.’ … The prospect has a lot to think about.  Give him or her the gift of silence to figure it out.  Ask for the gift and wait with your mouth shut.”

Be sure to check out Katya’s blog, she’s an amazing resource for nonprofit professionals! And rethink your donor presentations and resist the urge to talk through the entire meeting; add some moments of silence. I think it will pay off for your organization!

And just for fun, check out this You Tube video: Silence is Golden, Tremeloes.

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Rules of the Road for Clients and Consultants

Posted by on Oct 10, 2011 | 0 comments

In my office I have a sign that reads, “Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Recently foundation leaders and communications consultants sat across from each other and did just that – they listened to each other.

The purpose of this particular activity was to discover through the sharing of ideas how clients and consultants could work together more effectively. I think they hit the nail directly on the head with their results and am including a complete list of their recommendations in this post – suggestions from client to consultants, and also from consultants to clients.

I believe better communication and a stronger relationship will be the result of incorporating these 25 suggested practices into your client/consultant relationship.

The following list is the result of a session at the annual 2011 Communications Network conference in Boston. You can find the entire article, by Minna Jung of the The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Vice Chair, Communications Network here.

FROM clients TO consultants:

  1. Take the time to learn and understand who your client is—their mission, identity, values, processes
  2. Bring your expertise and your innovation to the table—we want your best thinking, not just worker bees, although we acknowledge that sometimes we just need the worker bees.
  3. We really want candor and honesty in your dealings with us. Don’t tell us you’ll hit a deadline when you haven’t a prayer of doing so.
  4. We want you to build flexibility into the engagement.
  5. We want to stop the pitching “arms race.”  Most of us don’t respond well to it.
  6. Don’t “bait-and-switch,” i.e., have the senior person do all the upfront pitching and promising, and then substitute in junior staff to do the work.  Be transparent from the get-go about who’s going to work on the team.
  7. Don’t be “yes men.”  We hired you because you’re smart and strategic, so feel free to push on us a bit, although we also like it when you know when to back off.
  8. Defend your ideas, but don’t be defensive about your ideas.
  9. Understand the principles of good project management.  Try for good practices, like regularly scheduled check-ins, that don’t make us feel like you’re constantly bugging us.
  10. Well-written quality product is the cost of entry.  We don’t expect you to capture all the nuances of a particular issue, but sound sentence structure is a must.
FROM consultants TO clients:

  1. Help us achieve mutual clarity on outcomes and deliverables.
  2. View us as a partner in setting strategy.  Maybe, if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, invest in an exploratory phrase to set the strategy.
  3. Tell us, exactly, who the people are who need to deliver on the strategy from your side.  Sometimes we realize that the “client” isn’t the person who needs to actually deliver from the foundation side.
  4. Help us stay on the same page with you about scope and desired outcome from the work.
  5. Help us establish a check-in protocol, and let us know about specific triggers/milestones that are particularly critical for you (like Board meetings, grantee meetings, etc.)
  6. “Don’t smoke crack before you write your RFP,” in other words, give us a real sense of what you have to spend.
  7. Please, please remember why you hired us in the first place.
  8. Please care about outcomes above and beyond media impressions.
  9. If you have issues with people on our team, be proactive about giving us feedback, so we can be part of the solution.
  10. Before you hire us, get comfortable with our business model.  Billing, invoicing—it’s what we have to do to stay afloat.
  11. If you’re a bad person, that’s non-negotiable for us.  Consultants do fire clients, very rarely, but it happens.
  12. Be clear about decision-making and lines of communication from the get-go.
  13. Think about who else needs to have a clear understanding of what the consultant is doing, like grantees.
  14. Have a very clear exit plan and strategy if the relationship doesn’t work.
  15. If there are potentially difficult intellectual property issues, let’s sort those out early.  Credit for our work is always nice, and appreciated, even though many of us do our jobs on a work-for-hire basis.
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Facts tell. Stories sell.

Posted by on Oct 7, 2011 | 0 comments

Even before our first day at kindergarten we recognized the importance of storytelling. And once we entered our first kindergarten class, blanket (or carpet) time was typically the best part of the day.

Why, then, is it so difficult to be a storyteller as an adult? Maybe it’s because stories seem more personal. Or maybe it’s because we feel childish or silly. Or maybe it’s simply because we aren’t sure how to do it.

The 3 P’s of Storytelling might help your efforts, see what you think:

POINT – When creating a storyline, define your point; focus your message. What are you trying to convey?

PERSONALIZE – Share your message in a way that relates to your audience. What will they understand?

PASSION – Make certain you believe your own words and can stand behind them. What emotion are you sharing?

In today’s world we are bombarded with thousands of messages a day. Which will we remember?

We remember the stories that touch our hearts and we take action based on our emotions. We may justify our actions with facts, but at the moment of decision – a purchase, a donation, a letter of support, a commitment – we are acting on our emotions.

As you craft your story, ask yourself what you want your audience to take away. Whatever it is, make it the point and focus of your story.

Now personalize it.

If you’re talking about the nation’s economy, break it down so that it makes “dollars and sense” when related to a typical household budget. Tell it in a way that creates an emotional connection; be passionate about how high level decisions directly affect the grocery list of the average citizen. Your message should not only be heard, it should be felt by your audience. Believe in what you are saying and make certain it shows.

We may not be able to bring out the fuzzy blankets of our toddler days, or sit in a carpet circle when it’s time to tell our story, but if we’ve prepared with the 3 P’s of Storytelling we’ll be fine.

Story-based presentations humanize your message. Give it a try, and if you’re still wary, tuck your blankie nearby for comfort.

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Steve Jobs Fought for the Best, Not the Most

Posted by on Oct 6, 2011 | 0 comments

Steve Jobs was an icon.

Some are comparing his impact on the world to the lives of Einstein and Edison, but others remember him as the guy who never gave up, thought beyond the expected, and brought global recognition to the letter “i”. No matter where you fall on the wide spectrum of Jobs memories, I am fairly certain you know who he was.

One man’s 20-minute phone conversation with Jobs reminded me of the greatest attribute of a leader – someone who makes the time to help others, and by so doing inspires greatness.

Many thanks to Lucas Haley for sharing his personal experience and reminding us that Steve Jobs was great, certainly because of his genius and vision, but also because of his humanity. As Haley states in his article, “He was a leader who fought for the best, not the most.”

My hat’s off to Steve Jobs. He was many things, but in the end his life changed the world dramatically and made it better.

Image credit: iSource: (Steve Jobs tribute logo created by Jonathan Mak, a 19-year old in Hong Kong).

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The Cure for Arthritic Writing

Posted by on Oct 6, 2011 | 0 comments

Putting pen to paper shouldn’t hurt, but there are days when the simple effort feels excruciatingly painful.

Outlining has always been the first step of my personal writing style, but The 5-Step Process that Solved Three Painful Writing Problems by Brian Clark of Copyblogger Media takes outlining to a higher level.

Bah-bye writer’s cramp…

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Ten Absolutes for a Successful Nonprofit Leader

Posted by on Oct 5, 2011 | 0 comments

Today’s blog post is actually a link to a guest blog post on the Duck Call blog, the guest blogger being Robert Acton, Executive Director of the Taproot Foundation. So basically, this is a blog of a blog within a blog.

When someone posts something that is so perfectly on point, there’s no reason to rewrite, edit or attempt to duplicate. And that’s exactly what Robert Acton has done – he’s listed ten life imperatives for a nonprofit leader. And he’s right on the money.

As Acton states, “Most of us would agree that a life well-lived demands a life lived in balance, yet nonprofit leaders are infamously guilty of taking care of others and neglecting themselves.”

So, take a break from your day and enjoy this brilliant read.


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